Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Driving in Europe, and Salzburg

There are many cultural differences between life in America and life in Europe, one of the largest being driving.  

It takes several months to get used to the way people drive, the way roads flow and the way signs direct the driver to their destination. For instance: take one driver new to Europe, one up to date map and navigator, and send them into Salzburg, Austria headed downtown. Ninety minutes could realistically go by with no success.
Even after a good year of driving experience things could be bad. For some reason, a driver beginning in downtown Salzburg headed out of town looking for the highway to Munich is directed by the signs in a big, seemingly unnecessary circle before finally hitting the autobahn. Perhaps they want the visitor to see as much of town as possible.
And what a town it is. Everyone knows that Salzburg is a beautiful place to see, but the way parts of the historic downtown are built, even carved, into the cliff face along the river is just amazing. There is an obvious attempt at some degree of uniformity. Not that all the shops look alike, but the signage and store fronts never deviate too far from the norm. Even McDonald’s has replaced its Golden Arches in favor of the wrought iron sign style that everyone else has.
Once on the Autobahn, don’t think things will get better. Sure, you can theoretically go as fast as you dare on some stretches, but the flipside to the Autobahn coin are the traffic jams. The stretch between Salzburg and Munich boasts some as long as 20 km or more. This is such a bad problem in Germany, that all car radios are capable of interrupting any station, tape, or CD with the periodic traffic alerts.

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